‘Going green’ is good business says private sector at UN’s COP24 climate conference
For years, sectors such as construction, transport, farming and retailing, have had the finger pointed at them for being major contributors to greenhouse gas emissions globally and for putting profit ahead of environmental protection. But increasingly, new technologies and models are transforming the private sector so that business leaders no longer have to choose between making money and taking better care of the planet.
This is one of the key issues being discussed here at the COP24 conference, where negotiations are continuing on the implementation of the climate action agreement adopted in Paris, in 2015, when 197 parties committed to try and limit global warming to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels.
“We are calling on all companies across sectors and regions, to set their science-based targets to a new level of ambition, one that aligns with the 1.5°C target,” said Lise Kingo, who heads the UN Global Compact, a network of 9,500 small and large private companies which have committed to invest more in sustainable development.
Speaking at a press conference at COP24, along with the heads of Maersk – the Danish global shipping company – as well as US confectionary giant Mars, and the French-based water and waste management conglomerate, Suez, she stressed that “this is the only way we can reach the ambition of the Paris Agreement and the UN sustainable goals by 2030”.
According to the Global Compact, nearly half of the Fortune 500 list of leading US corporations, have set clear energy targets or greenhouse gas reduction goals. Moreover, in 2016, 190 of those companies captured a total of US$3.7 billion in savings thanks to their emissions reduction measures.
1000 solutions to protect the planet while making money
To make it easier for the private sector to adopt environmentally-friendly solutions while also boosting profits, one NGO – the Solar Impulse Foundation – has endeavoured to gather together 1,000 solutions already in operation, and vet them for their positive environmental impact and their profitability before presenting them to governments and the private sector at large.
“This is where can make a big difference for the protection of the environment… showing that it is profitable, that people can create jobs and make money with it,” said the founder of the foundation, Bertrand Piccard, who was also the first person ever to complete a round-the-world flight powered only by solar energy, in 2016.
Seeking to “bridge the gap between ecology and economy”, the 1,000 efficient solutions initiative was launched over a year ago and, so far, more than 1,500 companies have joined, with over 600 projects in the pipeline. So far, 58 solutions having already received the Solar Impulse Efficient Label on sustainability and profitability.
“The point I’m trying to make is that the biggest industrial market and financial opportunity of the century is in transforming the old devices, systems and infrastructures which are inefficient and polluting, into efficient and clean and much more profitable industrial processes, devices, systems, technologies and solutions,” Mr. Piccard told UN News in an interview at COP24.
From solutions which make homes carbon-neutral, to developing cleaner cooling systems, or producing stainless steel more efficiently and more economically, the pioneer hopes the initiative will help make the case that climate action can happen now. He said it should not have to wait until 2050, and can be about “winning, not losing” – something he believes to be particularly critical for the poorer and more remote communities across the world, which are often dependent on others for all their energy needs.
“Energy – if they make it locally with sun, with wind, with biomass, with waves, with hydroelectricity on a small river – would allow them to develop their wealth, their social stability and peace. They would not need to fight for energy, as they would produce it themselves,” he explained, acknowledging that such a shift would require an initial investment by an external entity willing to share the profits with the communities.
“Today we are seeing that the most profitable solutions need a little bit more upfront investment, and afterwards, they bring much more money back,” noted Mr. Piccard. “Take electric buses: an electric bus is just a little bit more expensive to buy than a diesel bus, but over ten years, which is the usual lifespan of a bus, if it’s electric, it brings about $400,000 in savings.”
Big clothing brands commit to showing the (run)way to sustainable practices
Along with the construction and buildings sector, as well as fossil-fuel energy producers, the fashion industry is often criticized for wasteful, polluting and highly unsustainable practices.
To course-correct, on Monday, at COP24, dozens of leading companies in the fashion industry – including Adidas, Burberry, Esprit, Guess, Gap, Hugo Boss, HM, Levi Strauss Co., Puma, Inditex – which owns brands like Zara and Bershka, as well as retailer Target, signed the Fashion Industry Charter for Climate Action, under the auspices of the UN Climate Change Convention secretariat, UNFCCC.
“The fashion industry is always two steps ahead when it comes to defining world culture, so I am pleased to see it now also leading the way in terms of climate action,” said UNFCCC chief Patricia Espinosa.
The document, open for others to join, and aligned with the goals of the Paris Agreement, presents a vision for the industry to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050 and defines issues to be addressed every step of the way in the life of fashion products, including: the use of environmentally sustainable materials, low-carbon transport; consumer awareness-raising; ‘scalable’ solutions through resource and political mobilization; and exploring ways to extend the life expectancy of fashion products as well as recycling possibilities.
“I congratulate the signatories of this important charter, which represents a unique commitment and collaboration from an array of fashion leaders. The Charter, like the renowned fashion runways of the world, sets an example that I hope others will follow,” noted Ms. Espinosa.
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COP24 negotiations: Why reaching agreement on climate action is so complex
“We cannot fail in Katowice,” said UN Secretary-General António Guterres in the opening ceremony, on 3 December. A sentiment echoed by the President of COP24, Michał Kurtyka, who stated: “Without success in Katowice, there is no success in Paris.”
In the French capital, three years ago, countries agreed to do everything they could to keep global temperature rises to well under 2°C above pre-industrial levels, and as close as possible to 1.5°C.
Now, in Katowice, Poland – with 2018 chosen by the parties themselves as the deadline for the adoption of implementation guidelines or a “work programme” to move forward with – the 197 parties of the UN Climate Chance Convention (UNFCCC) are gathered to agree on how they will achieve the Paris commitments collectively, build trust among each nation, and bring the 2015 agreement to life.
“Some might say that it will be a difficult negotiation. I know it is not easy. It requires a firm political will for compromise,” said Mr. Guterres during the opening ceremony. “But, for me, what is really difficult is to be a fisherman in Kiribati seeing his country at risk of disappearing, or a farmer or herder in the Sahel losing livelihoods and losing peace. Or being a woman in Dominica or any other Caribbean nation, enduring hurricane after hurricane destroying everything in its path.”
Historically, multilateral climate negotiations have been difficult, as countries often attempt to protect their national interests, including economic ones.
That is why the commitments made in Paris were hailed as groundbreaking in many ways. In addition to the 2°C/1.5°C target, the deal included commitments to: ramp up financing for climate action, including financial support from industrialised nations to developing countries; develop national climate plans by 2020, with self-determined goals and targets; protect ecosystems, including forests; strengthen adaptation and reduce vulnerability to climate change.
Agreeing on how to make all of the above happen, is a politically and technically complex matter that sometimes conflicts with a variety of local realities, country categorisations, scientific questions, money issues, and ultimately, brings into question the ever-so complicated notion of trust among nations.
Here are five of the most major tension points:
1. A common goal, but different parties, different realities
The first point of tension here is that some countries feel the need for global action more acutely than others. Take the plight of small island nations, for example, and areas of extreme weather activity such as the Sahel or the Polar regions.
In addition, industrialized countries are considered to have benefitted for decades from an economy that had no limits on greenhouse gas emissions, and therefore, they should take the biggest responsibility when it comes to the global effort to reverse the trend. But then again, others contend that some currently developing nations, now have record emissions and that climate action responsibility should lie with them to a greater extent.
The Paris Agreement achieved a delicate balance to bring all countries together. All countries, to varying degrees, have recognized that climate change is a global problem that requires a global response, and they have all showed the will to contribute to collective climate action efforts, as evidenced by the fact that 181 national climate action plans with self-determined targets have been submitted to the UN to date.
However, as countries face different realities, with various levels of economic and social development, the actions and obligations of the 197 parties need to be differentiated accordingly, especially when it comes to the financing of climate action – these are known as “common but differentiated responsibilities”. At COP24, a lot of the discussion centres around how to accommodate and handle these different realities fairly for all parties, while ensuring that the greatest and most ambitious climate action possible, can be undertaken.
2. Country categories
The Climate Change Convention, adopted in 1992, divides its 197 parties into two main groups: the industrialized group of 43 nations, and the developing group of 154, including 49 “least developed countries”.
The climate action contributions and responsibilities of each group differ with regards to how transparently and regularly they communicate their actions and provision of support; especially in terms of finance or technology-transfer, now, and in the long term.
Because the two groups were established more than 25 years ago, and taking into account that national socio-economic situations have evolved over time, some parties feel that the composition of these groups should be reassessed as we look to implement the Paris commitments. However, there is no process to change this grouping – and none is planned or anticipated – another complex point for this COP.
3. ‘Welcoming’ or ‘noting’ the science?
To facilitate the political discussions and ground them in fact, various scientific reports are being considered at COP24. One of them is last October’s landmark Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5˚C, prepared by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), drawn up by hundreds of scientists from around the world. The report, commissioned as part of the Paris Agreement, states that limiting the rise in temperatures to 1.5°C by the end of the century compared to pre-industrial era, remains possible, but will require an “unprecedented” shift in every aspect of our societies.
While all countries acknowledge the need to tackle climate change, one of the debates here at the COP is whether the IPCC report should be officially “welcomed” or merely “noted.” This seemingly small language technicality raises a critical question: to what degree should policy be based on science? It also signals a difference on how urgently and intensely various countries want to engage in climate action moving forward.
4. The ever-so thorny question of financing
Climate action – which requires new technology, infrastructure and skills – represents a cost that some nations, especially the least developed and most vulnerable, cannot carry alone. In Paris, donor nations committed to mobilising $100 billion every year to fund climate action in developing countries, starting in 2020. This figure would include public and private contributions, which renders the reporting quite complex… Countries are arguing on how close we are to meeting that target and whether it will be met by 2020.
Another burning issue is the lack of clarity over what constitutes “climate finance”, as many countries report some of their “development aid” as “climate action aid”. This lack of clarity complicates the discussions considerably, and questions regarding reporting, transparency and accountability are on the table.
5. Guidelines for true trust among nations
All the countries recognize the need for guidelines to be in place, so they can move on to implementing the Paris Agreement, and they are all mindful of the 2018 deadline. However, if we are to course-correct fast and well, efforts and investments are required – including in economic transition, ambitious reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, technology exchange and knowledge-sharing.
What it all comes down to, is the ephemeral trust among nations, an important element that can only be realized if tangible transparency measures are in place.
“We have no time for limitless negotiations,” said UN Secretary General António Guterres. “A completed work programme will unleash the potential of the Paris Agreement. It will build trust and make clear that countries are serious about addressing climate change,” he stressed.
The conversations on reporting and evaluation, with the potential set-up of peer review systems, are very challenging.
The negotiations on all of these issues are meant to last until the end of the week.
“Many political divisions remain. Many issues still must be overcome,” said the head of the UNFCCC secretariat, Patricia Espinosa, as she launched the high-level segment on Tuesday.
“But I believe it’s within our grasp to finish the job,” she stated confidently to the dozens of decision-makers gathered together in the conference hall.
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COP24: World sports join team UN in race against climate change
COP24 is a two-week conference that has brought together the 197 parties to the UN Climate Change Convention (UNFCCC), as well as activists, non-profits organisations, and the private sector, to define the guidelines to implement the historic 2015 Paris climate action agreement, aimed at limiting global warming to well below 2°C compared to pre-industrial levels.
The 17 the represent the starting line-up of the Sports Climate Action Framework, include major players like the International Olympic Committee (IOC), the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA), and the Union of European Football Associations (UEFA). Other signatories include the French tennis federation, Roland Garros, Formula E, the International Sailing Federation, organizers of the Tokyo 2020 Summer Olympics, the Paris 2024 Summer Olympics, the Rugby League World Cup 2021, and the World Surf League.
“With its global reach, universal appeal and the power to inspire and influence millions of people around the globe, sport is uniquely placed to drive global climate action and encourage crowds to join in,” said Prince Albert II of Monaco, who chairs the IOC Sustainability and Legacy Commission, during the launch event in Katowice. “As countries here in Katowice prepare to turn their climate commitments into reality, we stand ready to leverage the power of sport to support their efforts,” he stressed.
The sports industry bears responsibility for extensive carbon emissions on several fronts; including through travel, overall energy use, venue construction, and catering. With this initiative, it recognizes the need to unite behind a set of principles to get on track for a net-zero emissions economy by 2050.
“We recognize the critical need for everyone to help implement the Paris Agreement and accelerate the change needed to reach greenhouse gas emission neutrality in the second half of the 21st century,” said FIFA Secretary-General Fatma Samoura.
The sentiment is echoed by UEFA’s President Aleksander Čeferin: “Climate change is the biggest challenge facing the planet. UEFA firmly believes that football, with its strong and ever-growing environmental conscience, in particular in areas such as sustainable event management, has a duty to play a role in addressing this issue.”
The result of a collaboration between the representatives of various sports organisations and the UN, the Framework not only aims to reduce the amount of greenhouse gas emission stemming from sports operations, it also calls for leveraging the popularity of sporting role-models, and the passion of many fans, to help change public opinion about the dangers of irreversible climate change.
“You know playing in five different World Cups for my country, it’s one of those things. But at some point, as an athlete, you start to see the platform that you have, and you see your voice is for a reason, and the power of using it,” former football goalkeeper and UNICEF Ambassador, Karina LeBlanc, told UN News.
“Whether you have a reach of Cristiano Ronaldo with 360 million followers or you’re a teacher who has a classroom of kids, it’s about starting the conversation, on how we can all impact change… And the idea of being in a race, with everybody being in the same team, I think that’s what inspires me,” she explained.
Some concrete initiatives have already seen the light of day. The IOC, in collaboration with the UNFCCC secretariat, has produced two guides: “Sustainability Essentials: Sports for Climate Action” and “Carbon Footprint Methodology for the Olympic Games and Paralympic Games,” meant to provide essential climate action guidance to sports federations and others.
In early 2019, the adopters of the Sports for Climate Action Framework will be invited to form working groups to plan, pursue and enhance work under 16 principles laid out in the Framework.
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